Friday, December 31, 2010


This morning around 6 am a tornado hit a small town to the west of us in our county, a tiny crossroads village called Cincinnati. The tornado came from a fast moving storm that pummeled the county in the pre-dawn darkness. My wife was up town catching a very earlier breakfast with a friend when I was awoken by a text message from her asking where the tornado was. The power was off, there was a lot of lighining, and the wind chimes on the porch were blowning in the breeze. Then there was a steady roar like a jet engine, and I quickly threw on some overalls and grabbed the boys, some pillows and blankets, and we waited in the darkness for 5 minutes or so in the hall. If you've never woken up a 2 yr old and a 9 month old when there's an abscence of power but an abundance of full diapers - well the experience is pretty much how you'd think, except the leg the baby's on gets progressively warmer.

The power came on about an hour later, and the local news (channel 5 their pics are in the post) let us know of the destruction over towards Cincinnati. We've got a friend over there that's a pastured poultry farmer and we got started with poultry on pasture at the same time. She'd slept through the storm, only waking up after the power went out as well. She lives around a mile from Cincinnati, and when I told her the fire station had been destroyed, she remarked that was near so and so's dairy.
Turns out the old man who farmed the dairy was milking the cows when the storm struck. Sadly, there's one less dairy farmer in Washington County going into 2011.

The irony with these crazy winter storms is that the day is always so pretty afterwards. It was a beautiful day, and Carla and I got to get out and work around the house together - me in the garden and Carla brush-eating across the road.

Here's to a storm-free 2011

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Overwintering Hens This Year

One of the lessons I learned last year was that, over the winter, the laying hens have to be pulled off of the pasture. The pitter-patter of dozens of chicken feet over biologically dormant soil is a great way to trample a pasture into erosion and loose what little soil we have or have built up. The hens compact the soil, especially when it's wet.The other big problem is the hens need their greens in the winter and there's not much green out there. They'll keep nipping at any growth that does occur, and will kill the hardiest grass clumps - even the normally cast iron tough fescue grass. Rest is a necessity whether you're a person, family, chicken, or patch of ground.

So this year, I've got the hens housed in the training pen Carla and I built this past late spring. It's very secure, the flock has plenty of room, and once they ate all the grass that had been stored there, a friend and I covered the area with hay pretty thick to compost the chicken poop and keep the area from becoming a mud hole. The area is solid shale in some places, and so by mid spring, when the hens are put back on pasture, there'll be a real layer of fertility there to scatter clover and grass seed on.The hens are seem to be really happy with things. Shelter, no mud, safety from predators. This set up's good for around 150 hens comfortably. In the future, I'd like to overwinter the hens in a hoop house, but this'll do us for now and probably next year with flock cullings.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Fence Cost/Ft Estimation & Cost Share

So I applied for cost share through the NRCS (Natural Resource Conservation Service) for fencing this upcoming year. The federal government through the NRCS funds a portion of projects that they deem as encouraging sustainable farming. Fencing of the land we logged and are clearing for pasture is on my list of things that have to be done next year, and the feds consider strong fences - which keep livestock out of creeks and prevent lead-provoking encounters with wild predators - as something they'd theoretically like to help me with. I say theoretically, b/c the original sign-up cut off date was Oct 31 - then Nov 31, then Dec 31, and now it's Jan's frustrating b/c it's a priority thing, and I'm the kind of guy that likes to know well in advance what I'm doing next year so that I can get chew on it for a while....

Anyways, so the cost share is somewhere around 50 cts/ft for high tensile (electric) fencing. Carla and I got to talking about the hassle of dealing with the government on stuff like this, and to see if it's even something we'd do, we ran some quick numbers outloud tonight. Here's what we came up with:
  1. One roll of 10.5 gauge high tensile wire is around 4,000 ft and cost around $120 (includes tax). The fence will have 5 strands so that means one roll of wire will complete approximately an 800 ft section of fence. That comes to about 15 cts/ft or .
  2. I'm guessing I'll use a t-post around every 30 ft or so. More posts closer together in the steeper sections running up the hillside and fewer posts further apart running parallel with the benches. This means around 32 t-posts per 800 ft section and, assuming around $4.25 a post new (last time I scrounged up hundreds for around $1.50/post) that comes out to around $136/section in posts. Add a dollar/post for insulators, and that'll come up to $168/section for insulators and posts.
  3. $120 + $168 = a cost of around $290/section with a cost share of $400. The extra $110 would be used for gates, gas for the truck, Quickcrete to set posts and H-braces (I'll try to find used telephone poles for the posts), etc.
So with the cost share doing all the labor myself, I'm thinking I can pretty much get my fences for free and possibly pay for the automatic post driver we'll get. Seems worth the hassle, especially compared to getting the VA to give me medical treatment for getting busted up in that's real frustration!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Little Hens

So we got next year's batch of hen chicks a little over a week ago. This is my first time brooding chicks over the winter, and so far it's going fairly well. It's been particularly cold as of late, so I've got 4 heat lamps in there trying to keep the little girls warm.This is how the girls look when everything's going well. You can see the heat lamps, and the hens are spaced out pretty evenly underneath them. If you watch the chicks, they'll fall asleep under the lamps, some completely conked out, other dozing, until they get too hot, then they'll get up and move to the outside. The danger can come when there's not enough heat, and the chicks pile tighter and tighter in an ever smaller pile to stay warm. The result is dead chicks.

None of that so far, though temps are dipping near the single digits the next couple of nights. In a couple of weeks, the chicks'll loose their poofy down and feather out. Then they'll be tough as nails.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Wren's Thicket's Green Thumb

This is our friend Deb who's running the winter market. She and her husband are pretty amazing folks. We've had single digit nighst, and multiple days in the low 20s already this year. Their high tunnel is unheated, and they produce a lot of food in the cold of winter on a less than ideal Ozark hillside.
Carla and I walked in and it was....well, like stepping into the Garden of Eden. It's pretty shocking to see that much lush, luxurious, green growth when there's so much brown and grey outside in the barren hill and mountainsides. Absolutely stunning isn't it?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

120 Laying Chicks On The 'Morrow

So tomorrow we'll be 120+ laying hens richer. 60 (more or less)Sex-links, 60 Rhode Island Red hens. Actually, they won't be hens, they'll be 3 day old chicks. Little balls of fluff that'll turn into big feathery rectangles of egg-layin' sassy.

I've got the brooder up and running - the lights on to warm up the litter overnight so it'll be toasty in the morning when the West Fork Post Office calls. They'll call around 6 am and let me know the birds are there. Apparently, chicks and poults are really annoying in the tiny post office. I showed up last year for 60 turkey poults and the lady that helped me told me "Thank God you're here, they're driving us nuts!". In their defense, chilly baby turkeys are loud peepers.

I'm finding that things tend to seem to grow increasingly faster and faster - kids, chickens, turkeys, tomatoes...what's it going to be like in a couple more decades.

We'll find out soon enough.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Wren's Winter Market

Saturday's 9:00-noon, we're selling at the winter market for the second year. This year we're selling meatbirds, whole and halves, that we raised on pasture earlier this year as well as firewood.
There's just about everything you could want to get you through the winter at the market - meat, eggs, greens, root veggies, winter squash, jams, and more.

Simmey's getting older, he'll be 3 in a few months. He's an oversized ball of energy, but if I can get him to stop long enough to listen, he's a well-behaved toddler hurricane - that is of course when he's not yelling at customers how much he needs a bath. Above, he's munching on some popcorn. Below playing with his toy backhoe and the "pumpkin" that another vendor gave him. I like that I'm able to spend one-on-one time with Simmey more and more now whether it's working outside or selling in town. I really enjoy the winter market. The customers are nice, the vendors work together, it's just - well, enjoyable. Plus, I don't have to spend all day there. In fact, most of the folks send their orders in early.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The quest for affordable eggmobile tires

So a while back, I bought a really old haywagon chassis online of Craigslist. The intent is to build an egg mobile on the chassis for one of my flocks next year. I took the rims off, and three of the tires were completely rotted out and needed to be replaced. I found a place in town that would mount tires on the rims - for $160 a piece. I almost messed my drawers. For that price I might as well just feed dollar bills to the goat herd.

A couple of weeks of searching, and I tried this place. Coincidentally, I drive past it everyday on my way to work. They deal primarily used tires, which is what I wanted. And between my limited english, and their limited Spanish, we were able to communicate enough to get things done.
Only one of the tire rims sealed the first time they tried. The other two gave them fits around the valve stems. They worked on it for a few days, and all three tire hold air fine now. Grand total w/ my grateful tip - $89 dollars. Compared to the $480 it would have cost at the other place, this was a much easier price to swallow.
The guys running this business are young, and they work hard. The business looks like it's run by 19-21 year olds, but as I mentioned before,they do great work, and have no shortage given the steady stream of customers. I wish them well for mine and their sake.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Free Arkansan Xtmas Tree

So all around town, pricey Xtmas tree lots have been opening up, with trees from Wisconsion and other places up north showing up. Some of us, and by us, I mean ourselves and some of our friends, think a little different and have for quite a while opted for using local cedars as Xtmas trees. Below you'll see one of my good friends and his father after proudly bagging a wily cedar on the top bench of my pasture. It's the biggest cedar anyone's hauled out of the pasture to date.
They've been cutting cedars for Christmas for a while now, around 25 years if I remember correctly. I hope to be cutting Christmas trees with my sons in a couple of decades. Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Cleaning Up's in Thier Blood

Our Great Pyrenees have done a great job keeping our pastures free of predators. Before the pups and the electric fence, we were plagued with predator attacks, and I came very close to writing the whole pastured poultry endeavor off and callling it quits. It's hard enough to make a profit, and if you're loosing birds regularly to predators, it's impossible. Old-timers told me it couldn't be done, even the ones who were hippies before hippies were cool. That year we came so close to throwing in the towel that we actually put the remaining flock up on Craigslist for sale.

So a two and a half years later, we're still here, and the two goofballs below play a part in it.
You'll notice in the picture above that Fredo, our male dog, is carrying a chicken. The chicken is dead, and he's doing what comes natural to him. Livestock guardian dogs have the need to "clean up" whenever there's a dead animal around. Sometimes it mean hauling the animal off, or often trying to eat it. This particular chicken was on the floor of the coop last night. I knew she'd be dead by the morning, so I moved her out into a pen in the pasture. Sadly, this morning she was dead as a doornail. I opened up the pen door to remove her, and before I could get in, Alfredo walked straight into the pen, picked the dead hen up, and trotted off. I guess he'd been waiting all night to get rid of the bird. Often, LGDs are blamed undeservedly for killing stock - I've been guilty of it too. But my pup crew has earned my trust.